The summons said to report at 9:00 a.m. at the courthouse in Martinez on a Friday. I fretted about parking but found a spot in the free lot.
The juror waiting room was filled with prospective jurors. We were given a questionnaire, a speech about serving, and then we were sent home for the weekend.
On Monday, I found parking again. I was called up to the courtroom in the first group.
Good, I thought. Let’s get this over with. Tomorrow is my birthday.
We were seated in the courtroom and told that the case involved a child under ten who had claimed she had been sexually molested by the defendant. I already knew that, since the eight- page questionnaire asked if I‘d ever been sexually molested or knew anyone who had been. I had long forgotten the incident in college until I had to write about it for the judge.
Midterms over. A party at a guys’ dorm with my housemates. Too much drinking. Dancing with a cute guy. Feeling dizzy. Him taking me to his dorm room to sleep it off. Him leaving. His roommate coming in. My girlfriends at the door screaming. Me getting up and puking on my winter coat.
The next morning, I could feel it. I’d been sexually assaulted.
The same five girls knocked on my door. They had rounded up a car. They got me and my ruined coat and took me to the dry cleaners. No one said a word on the ride there or the ride back. It was too terrible to discuss. But they were all there for me. They knew it could’ve been them.
Now, forty plus years later, I was in the jury box, and the judge was asking me if I could be impartial, based on what had happened in college.
“No, I don’t think so,” I said.
The judge turned the questioning over to the prosecuting attorney, who asked all the prospective jurors, one by one, if we could be impartial. Some of the older men were saying that they could not be, since they had daughters and granddaughters.
As I sat there listening to them, my stomach in knots, I began to cry. It wasn’t a little cry. It was big sobs. For forty years I hadn’t allowed myself to weep over what had happened to me my sophomore year in college. Back then I had to be strong, had to stay in school, and had to ignore the taunting from the guys in that dorm as I walked under their archway to get to campus. They all knew what had happened to me — the roommate was a star — they thought it was funny.
I hadn’t remembered in along time. I‘d stuffed down the details until I was required to put it on paper for the first time ever, for the judge. That day in the jury box, I wanted so badly not to hear a case about a child involved in a sexual molestation.
Was it because it was my birthday eve? Was it because I was embarrassed, humiliated, or just plain sorry that I had to relive the whole thing?
After ninety minutes of grilling, the judge turned to the three men who had objected and excused them. Then he said to me, “Obviously you are not able to serve. You are excused.”
I got up to leave and turned to the rows and rows of prospective jurors behind me. They looked unhappy and a little disgusted.
You played the crying card. Now we can’t use that one.
It occurred to me that I must look ridiculous after an hour of sobbing.
I went down to the basement and got my name badge stamped. I was done with my jury duty for a year.
That evening half a dozen girlfriends met me at Bridges for an arranged birthday celebration in my honor. I was mentally exhausted, my make-up was cried off, and I felt every bit of my sixty-one years.
But it was still fun.
Thank God for girlfriends.
Couldda Wouldda Shouldda
The cute guy I’d danced with actually called to ask me on a date a week after the assault. Of course I said no. It was too horrible to imagine having to ever meet his roommate. If I hadn’t had too many drinks, I could have dated the cute guy. It was hard lesson to learn.